Diving Unknown Sites

I’ve been doing some diving with Tyler Stalter on Lora’s boat, the Marissa (San Diego, CA) lately in an effort to locate new dives sites. I guess I would call Tyler the “brains” and I just help pay for the charter, dive, and take pictures. Lora patiently indulges our diving. 🙂

I thought it might be interesting to provide some insight on what happens and how hard it is to actually locate a new site.

Finding Targets

Tyler combs through websites and data to find “blips” or unusual shapes on bathymetric data (often from NOAA) and these get labeled for investigation. He also does some research in local newspapers to see if he can find information about ships sinking, airplanes crashing, etc. in that local area. An example screenshot of some bathymetric data is shown below:

And here is a closer picture:

Sidescan Sonar

Next, you take a boat over the site a few times to get some idea of the site. Are there fish? How big is the relief off the ocean floor? Is there a “divet” in the sand? Does the depth match the bathymetric data?


Unless you have an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV) and the conditions would allow you to use it, there is only really one way to find out what is there: jump in.

If the site looks interesting, then you jump in to dive it. Many times you strike out and hit rocks. Sometimes you find a man made structure (e.g. , see below). When you are “lucky” you find something cool like a boat or a plane.

The scans above are from one of the target sites we dived this week. In this case, here is what it turned out to be:

Other times, you find even more “boring” stuff. One of the other dives we did ended up being this:

And then, every once in a while, you get really lucky, and the site turns out to be this:

Engine from a Corsair

We discovered after the dive that the site above had been dived before (more on that in another post) but it was still really exciting to dive a site that has very rarely been seen.

Our day on Wednesday consisted of three dives and we hit the jackpot on one of the second. If we could have those odds every day, I would take them in a heartbeat. As Tyler says “If I had a dollar for every time I’ve found nothing but sand or rocks, I’d be a millionaire.”

Happy dive site hunting.

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